Tuesday 24, April 2012
BUDAPEST, April 24 (UNHCR) – UNHCR is today releasing a position paper on the protection environment for refugees and asylum-seekers in Hungary. While highlighting good practices, the paper also indicates areas of concern where progress could be made.
The paper “Observations on the situation of asylum-seekers and refugees in Hungary” presents a bleak assessment of the environment those seeking international protection have to face here. Hungary was the first country in the region to ratify the Refugee Convention in 1989 after the downfall of communism and hosted tens of thousands of asylum-seekers arriving from Romania, Yugoslavia and later, from non-European countries.
Since 2010, new policies and significant amendments to the Hungarian asylum law have come into effect. The human rights and protection needs of asylum-seekers have been overshadowed by security and law enforcement objectives in the fight against illegal migration. Key concerns include the increasingly systematic detention of asylum-seekers who enter Hungary without a visa in harsh prison-like conditions.
“Illegal migrants and people exercising their human right to seek asylum are locked up together without differentiation between the two groups”, says Gottfried Köfner, UNHCR’s Regional Representative for Central Europe. Asylum detention has become the rule rather than the exception. Typically, an asylum-seeker will be detained for the full 4-5 months of their in-merit procedure and spend much of the day locked in their rooms. The new law also provides for this administrative detention from six up to 12 months, and even for the detention of families with children for up to 30 days, contrary to international standards.
Complaints from asylum-seekers speak of repeated cases of verbal and physical abuse by guards, and the frequent prescription of tranquilizers for stress, which has in some cases led to addiction. When taken to court for hearings or to a doctor outside the detention facilities, asylum-seekers are handcuffed and often escorted on leashes – measures normally used for the accused in criminal proceedings.
Asylum-seekers in detention have also complained of lack of information about their asylum procedures or about their individual cases. In some cases neither the grounds of the detention nor the next steps in the procedures are adequately explained.
Asylum-seekers also face increasing hurdles accessing the asylum procedure in Hungary. They are routinely deported to Serbia, which Hungary, wrongly in UNHCR’s view, regards as a ‘safe third country’, and are at risk of chain deportation to various countries without adequate asylum systems in place, including Macedonia and Greece. In 2011, more than 450 asylum-seekers were rejected to enter the in-merit procedure in Hungary and most were deported to Serbia. This might pose a risk of chain refoulement to a country where people fled danger or persecution, and risks breaching Hungary’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.
According to current legislation no personal interview is required before the refusal of entry of a foreigner wishing to enter Hungary unlawfully. Therefore, border officials have no opportunity to determine whether the person wishes to apply for asylum or there are other grounds not to return the person to certain countries.
Access to a full and fair asylum procedure is becoming increasingly problematic for those returned to Hungary under Dublin II arrangements. These people are not automatically considered as asylum-seekers and must reapply in what are considered ‘subsequent’ applications. This means asylum-seekers transferred to Hungary under Dublin II are generally not protected against expulsion orders to third countries, even if the merits of their claims have not yet been examined. Therefore, they may not have access to protection, despite EU directives which stipulate that asylum-seekers should be “taken back” by the EU country to complete the examination of the asylum claim.
These harsh measures are taking place against a backdrop of dramatically decreasing asylum claims in Hungary, which might otherwise provide an opportunity for improved protection standards. In 2011, a total of 1693 asylum-seekers were registered – 19,5 per cent fewer than in 2010, which were in turn 55 per cent lower than the previous year.
While UNHCR recognizes that refugees travel alongside illegal migrants and that combating illegal migration is a valid concern for states, the pre-occupation with the fight against illegal migration in the context of asylum has made the Hungarian system increasingly restrictive. It is causing severe hardships and additional suffering for people who are searching for a safe haven. It also makes it difficult for Hungary to fulfil its obligations under international and national laws to protect the human rights of men, women, children who have fled danger and are in search for a solution to their plight.
UNHCR welcomes recent steps by Hungary to improve the situation, including the provision of internet in detention provided by NGOs with EU funds, and steps by the police to improve the complaints procedure in detention and investigate instances of brutality. The treatment of unaccompanied and separated children has also improved since May 2011 when, following the recommendation of the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, the children of concern have been included in the mainstream child protection regime and are now placed in a child care institution in Fót run by the Ministry of National Resources.
“Nevertheless urgent steps are required to bring the protection environment in line with international standards”, stresses the UNHCR’s Regional Representative for Central Europe. UNHCR does not think the solution lies just with the conditions of detention, and is urging large-scale changes to current policies which see the indiscriminate detention of asylum-seekers. “Instead, people should be able to come forward and make their claims for asylum in a positive environment, without being discouraged, intimidated, treated like criminals and facing the severe stress of detention”, says Gottfried Köfner.
The full paper is available at this link.